Durga Puja 2014

Out of the several festivals the Indian land is known for across the globe, Durgoutsava (Festival of Durga) or Durga Puja (Worship of Durga) is one of the most significant celebrations that have been enriching the Indian culture from time immemorial. Durga Puja is celebrated twice a year in many states of India. According to Indian scriptures, the conventional worship of Durga falls in the Hindu month of 'Chaitra' (March or April) and is called Basanti Durga Puja. However the autumnal ritual, also known as 'Akaal Bodhan', is more popular and widely celebrated in the Hindu month of 'Ashwin' (September- October).

It is believed that Goddess Durga, the slayer of MAHISASURA, was first worshipped in autumn by Lord Ram before going for war with Ravana. Lord Ram had invoked the blessings of Goddess Durga by performing 'Chandi Homa', offering 108 blue lotuses and lighting 108 lamps. It was then on Ashvin Shukla Dashami that Lord Rama who was blessed by the Goddess had attained triumph by killing Ravana. Moreover it is believed that Durga Puja is observed as the welcoming celebration of Goddess Durga who visits her mother's land for ten days on the completion of which she goes back to her husband Lord Shiva.

History records that grand celebration of Durga Puja began in late 1500s. There are many folk tales about the first Durga Puja in Bengal. One story says the landlords or zamindars of Dinajpur and Malda initiated the first Durga Puja in Bengal. As per another, Raja Kangshanarayan of Taherpur organized the first autumn Durga Puja in Bengal. While the third states that the first grand Puja was organised by Raja Nabakrishna Deb of Calcutta in honour of Lord Clive in 1757.

Through time and advancement a gradual change appeared in the way Durga Puja is celebrated. Although the essence of the festival remains the same, the manner of its celebration has evolved.

In recent times Durga Puja is celebrated in various forms and under various names owing to the difference in regional practices. It is observed with much fanfare and gaiety as 'Navaratri' in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala and Maharashtra; as 'Kullu Dussehra' in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh; as 'Mysore Dussehra' in Mysore, Karnataka; as 'Bommai Golu' in Tamil Nadu and as 'Bommala Koluvu' in Andhra Pradesh.

While Durga Puja celebrations lasts for ten days, the last four days- Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami- are celebrated with much grandeur especially in Bengal. Earlier the puja was organised only by the rich families who had the resources to spend on elaborate worship. In the late 19th and 20th century, the middle class in Calcutta brought about a transformation and started the tradition of Community Puja or Sarbojanin Puja.

The Community Puja is organized by each and every locality where a committee collects fund from the people to meet the expenses for the pandal construction, sculpture preparation, ceremonies, etc. It involves feasting, organization of games for children and other activities for all the people of the locality.

The extended celebrations begin with the day of Mahalaya on which Bengali families get up together at 4am in the morning to listen to the radio which customarily broadcasts hymns from Chandi Path or Devi Mahatmyam. It is followed by a week-long socializing and visiting of pandals where food tasting is a common practice.

The Devi aagman and gaman is another custom observed throughout the Bengali community. Going by the beliefs Goddess Durga visits and exits on different means of transportations signifying the kind of life the coming year would bring to the people. The means of commuting include Ashwa, Palki, Nauka, Gaj and others.

Beginning with the sixth day up till the ninth, worshippers offer flowers often termed as "pushpanjali" to the sculpture of Goddess Durga through morning visits to pandals. The prayers are accompanied by the music of dhaks or drums marking the occasion sacred and auspicious.

The customs conclude with the immersion of the idols of the Goddess in water bodies which is carried out by a procession of worshippers amidst chants of the hope of the return of the Goddess next year from the home of her husband Lord Shiva.

As described before the creation and ornamentation of the sculpture is marked by rites and rituals. The clay used for the sculpture of Goddess Durga is collected from the banks of river, preferably River Ganga as it is considered one of the most religiously significant rivers. There is an old custom of mixing a handful of soil collected from the locality of sex workers and then making the sculpture.

Opulent pandals, some of them theme based, are erected for the six days celebration. The sculpture of Goddess Durga is then installed in the community pandals. Earlier the sculpture of Goddess Durga along with her four children was created in a single frame but since 1980s all the sculptures are depicted separately. Even though Community Puja belongs to a locality, entry is free for everyone and people love to share their joys and exchange friendly talks.

This festival is observed with greater zeal every year where pandals never cease to become the manifestation of excellent innovation and creative new themes. Due to the environmental concerns and depletion of India's water bodies as a result of pollution, some responsible communities have started adopting eco-friendly methods in creation of sculptures. The government and NGOs have been taking measures to encourage people to utilise biodegradable material for the same.

Dates For Durga Puja Celebrations 2014
Mahalaya 23rd September 2014
Panchmi 28th September 2014
Shashthi 29th September 2014
Saptami 30th September 2014
Mahaa-Ashtami 01st October 2014
Mahaa-Navami 02nd October 2014
Dashami - Vijya 03rd October 2014
Lakshmi Puja 07th October 2014
Kali Puja 23rd October 2014

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